Anime Review Re:Zero Series

Anime Hajime Review: Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-

Original Run: April 4, 2016 - September 19, 2016
Number of Episodes: 25
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Isekai
Based on the Series Created By: Tappei Nagatsuki

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Subaru Natsuki (voiced by Yuusuke Kobayashi) is aimlessly minding his own business when he is suddenly transported to a parallel world. Instantly, his excited, fantasy-prone mind begins to race. He imagines all the isekai stories he has ever read and wonders how his experience in one will be. However, he quickly notices there is nothing at all special about him

Then Subaru meets a beautiful half-elf named Emilia (voiced by Rie Takahashi). The pair begins to search for a lost item of Emilia’s, and along the way, the two start to bond a little. They locate the stolen object when tragedy strikes.

Emilia is murdered and Subaru mortally wounded. As the life drains from his body, Subaru swears to protect Emilia no matter what. In the next instant, Subaru wakes to where he was a few hours ago. Somehow time had reset.

Subaru doesn’t know it yet, but his life is about to be filled with death and loss, the likes of which he can’t imagine.

Series Positives

To quantify this review, Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- (Re:Zero) came out in 2016. This review is coming out in 2020 in preparation for Re:Zero Season 2. In the interim period, this series has grown to something close to iconic. In the world of isekai anime, this show is a staple.

You do not spend four years writing about anime on the internet without noticing a thing or two about “the series of the day.”

I am happy to say I went into Re:Zero knowing very little about the story, its central plot points, or even its general atmosphere. Of course, I was fully aware that the character Rem (voiced by Inori Minase) is – as of writing of this review – still considered to be among the quintessential wifus with anime fans. And as said above, I also knew this series was an isekai, and that was the primary sticking point in my head when I started this show. It was what led to a massive misconception.

Isekai anime – stories that involve characters being transported to a parallel world – have been prevalent in recent years. Thus, these types of shows have certain qualities attached to them. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Over-powered protagonists
  • Demon kings
  • Harem-esque adventuring parties
  • A tendency to stick to more lighthearted narratives

Naturally, not all isekai have these traits. In fact, the better shows of the genre are the ones that break its molds – Youjo Senki, Rising of the Shield Hero, and my personal all-time favorite KonoSuba.

So, what does any of that have to do with Re:Zero?

This series was a mold-breaker. I can’t think of another isekai anime that is even remotely similar to this show (know that I have not seen them all). This was truly unique, and I can see why it has become a flagship for the genre. Or in other words:

Re:Zero was really f@#$ing good.

I will attribute this series’ success to three attributes:

  1. Its atmosphere
  2. Its story
  3. Its characters

First, Re:Zero got dark – like, despairingly so. My mistake of an assumption was this series would be a silly, joke-filled, comedy adventure. In the first half of the first episode, it appeared as though that was what this show was going to be – until it wasn’t.

Again, I made this false assumption because I heard the word “isekai;” there was no other reason. To those who might be in the same camp I was, be prepared. Re:Zero takes a turn and then races off from there. This is not a bad thing either.

Although there were goofy moments – this show was not without humor – this was no comedy. There was death; there was torture; there were broken spirits, crippling betrayals, and at times downright horror. But Re:Zero wasn’t just a dark void of grief and suffering.

This series knew how to be triumphant. Hopelessness was one emotion I never felt while watching. There were always chances for characters to turn things around. They needed to fight and crawl and summon every ounce of strength to achieve victory, but it was still possible.

This leads me to point number two: Re:Zero’s story.

Why was Subaru Natsuki summoned to this parallel world? I haven’t a clue. Fortunately, that wasn’t the driving force behind this series — that honor goes to Subaru’s time-reset ability. The intrigue didn’t come from why the phenomenon happened. Instead, it had more to do with the consequences of when it triggered.

When I learned Subaru could return to a “save point,” my first thoughts were of the possibilities that could present. Since Subaru would know what was going to happen next, he could plan and strategize accordingly. I saw it as a boon. Re:Zero, on the other hand, didn’t. This show did a fantastic job of framing this power for what it was – a curse.

Subaru’s ability only worked when he died, and why would anyone want to redo a peaceful death? If Subaru’s demise wasn’t mercifully swift and unexpected, which it rarely was, it was drawn out and brutal. Plus, his end would usually come after he was forced to watch the slaughter of the people he loved.

On top of that, Subaru couldn’t tell anyone about his power. As soon as he began to speak of it, a terrifying shadow hand would wrap around his heart, ready to cause what I can only suspect to be horrendous pain. Thus, he had to rely on people to trust his word. Unfortunately, why the hell would anyone be willing to do that without a proper explanation? Therefore, surprise, most didn’t.

More than anything, it was Subaru desperately pleading for people to listen to him that made Re:Zero a brilliant watch – in an extremely uncomfortable sort of way.

Finally, there were the characters, and here was where this series shone the brightest. Many people were in this show, so I only want to focus on three of them; Subaru, Emilia, and Rem.

Continuing what I was saying about his time-reset ability, it wasn’t hard to feel sorry for Subaru. After all, we followed him each time he died and was reborn. We knew what he knew; we had seen what he had seen. It was easy to appreciate his frustration and anger when the people he tried to help refused to listen. Then when he was on the verge of breaking, how was that not heartbreaking?

There was a fantastic scene where Subaru couldn’t take it anymore. He was ready to give up, and he unloaded every bit of fury he had within him. He was sick of seeing people die horrifically and then have those same people call him a liar when he tried to protect them.

Moving on: With Emilia, if the internet is to be believed, she should have been unlikable. That simply wasn’t the case. Like Subaru, you could empathize with her struggles. Due to her appearance, people assumed she was this evil witch, and thus, she was shunned from society. She only had a small handful of friends who she could rely on. Although Subaru was one of those few, his attitude and methods were foreign to Emilia. This made it even more difficult for her to accept Subaru’s bizarre behavior whenever he spoke of impending doom.

To make a long story short: Emilia wasn’t the garbage character the internet led me to believe she was. But more on this later.

Lastly, there was Rem, and in her case, I get why the internet fell in love with her. I have to admit, I did too. Without question, Rem was my favorite character from Re:Zero because she did the one thing no one else seemed capable or willing to do – listen to Subaru.

Rem didn’t know about Subaru’s reset. However, she did pick up that something was forcing him not to give the whole truth. In the same scene where Subaru’s anger broke, Rem expressed her love and admiration for Subaru. She acknowledged everything he had done for her and everything he was still trying to accomplish. She saw that Subaru’s motivates were not malicious, and he desperately needed someone to support him.

Essentially, Rem was this series’ hope. Remember, we were following Subaru; we knew exactly what he was going through. We needed someone like Rem as much as Subaru did. That’s why I think so many people have gravitated to this one character, and it’s why so many people (including me) are pissy about Subaru’s insistence on Emilia. Therefore, take a guess what some of the Series Negatives section will be about. 

Before we get there, though, know that any faults in this series are utterly overshadowed by its positives. Re:Zero was a phenomenal watch.

Series Negatives

On the whole, Re:Zero was beautifully animated. It had a great mastery of colors, lights, and action. Still, whenever there were large herds of monsters, this series employed some rather poor CGI. Although these instances weren’t distracting, they were noticeable.

With that out of the way, let me just say it:

Why the hell did Subaru keep choosing Emilia over Rem?

The only reason why I think Subaru was so head-over-heels with Emilia was due to her being the first pretty girl he ran into. Other than that, there was nothing that suggested why Subaru was so obsessed with the half-elf.

Then there was Rem who:

  • Stood by Subaru when he was at his lowest.
  • Always fought alongside Subaru in every battle.
  • Lent a caring ear to Subaru when he needed one.
  • Sacrificed herself on multiple occasions to save Subaru.

That’s not even considering how cute she is.

This may sound like an insignificant gripe, but it’s actually a huge problem. Rem and Subaru were a team; they had been through so much together. They helped each other grow and become better, stronger people. This series put time into shaping who they were. Although Re:Zero developed Emilia’s personality well too, it did nothing to build a romantic relationship between her and Subaru.

And since Subaru appeared to have fallen for Emilia mostly for her looks, you have to ask, what was Emilia’s real role in this story? Seeing how Subaru was constantly trying to protect her, Emilia was nothing more than a damsel in distress. This undermined the whole idea of her being a powerful magic-user.

This wouldn’t have been that big a deal with me if it hadn’t been for Subaru declaring his love for Emilia right after Rem poured out every reason why she had feelings for him. It felt like a huge slap in the face.

On another note, Re:Zero wasted the heroic moment Subaru had during his second major reset. He had committed himself to saving the people he had grown to care for and risked everything on the mere hope of the reset working. He had pushed past his limits, to then only backtrack and do it all again during the third crisis of the series.

I hope that is not a pattern that continues in season two, especially since Subaru has put so much effort into getting as far as he has. We’ll simply have to wait and see, I suppose.

Final Thoughts

I don’t know why I was so hesitant to watch this series. I think it was because I had convinced myself this show would be a certain way; just another isekai anime, albeit a popular one.

I was wrong. This series was fantastic.

With a brilliant story, fantastic characters, and an atmosphere that went against its genre’s norms, this was an all-around winner. I can understand why this show’s fans might have been excited to get a sequel after so many years.

Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- has earned a recommendation.

But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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